Rabbit Project Reference Manual

AS 2.010
April 2000
Rabbit Project
Reference Manual
Message to county Extension agents
and adult leaders
This manual is a reference guide for young people and adults
wanting to participate in a 4-H rabbit project in Texas. Raising
and marketing rabbits is an ideal project for 4-H members, especially in urban areas and on small farms with limited space. A
rabbit project allows them to experience the joy of owning a fine,
purebred animal with a minimum investment.
The 4-H member will learn principles of nutrition, care, grooming, breeding and economics. All they need is a good place to
house rabbits, feed to keep them growing, a willingness to make
the project a success and your help as an adult leader.
Although intended for 4-H use, the information in this manual
can benefit producers also.
We are indebted to Robert W. Berry, former Extension plant pathologist, for developing the earlier version
of this publication.
Breed photos courtesy of the American Rabbit Breeders Association. Other photos courtesy of Purdue
University. Drawings courtesy of Robert Eaddy, Rabbit Production Handbook.
Special thanks to the primary editors and contributors to this manual: David Reue, county Extension agent,
Burleson County; Kyle Westfall, volunteer, Brazos County; and Paul Richter, volunteer, Washington County.
Also, this manual would not be available without the support and vision of the Texas 4-H Rabbit Project
Team. Members include:
Jerry Ayers, Cass County
Elaine Beck, Denton County
Gloria Blackman, Harris County
Maureen Dunckel, Comal County
Marcel Fleury, Bexar County
Kent Hall, Extension Associate, Texas Agricultural
Extension Service
Sara Hignight, Crockett County
Greg Kaase, Extension Associate, Agricultural
Dr. Steven Lukefahr, Animal and Wildlife
Sciences, Texas A&M University-Kingsville
Rogelio Mercado, Extension Agent, Jim Wells
Ken McCracken, Harris County
Marilyn Ratliff, Upton County
David Reue, Extension Agent, Burleson County
Paul Richter, Washington County
Carol Roberts, Moore County
Nita Shed, Comal County
Fran Walker, Dallas County
Kyle Westfall, Brazos County
Chad Wootton, Extension Assistant-4-H
Cover photo models are (from left) Matthew Rector, Melissa Druery, Melanie Druery and Kyle
Westfall. Photo by Jerrold Summerlin, Agricultural Communications.
Chad Wootton*
Rabbit Project
Reference Manual
aising rabbits is fun. At the same time, a
4-H Rabbit Project can provide an important life skill learning experience. Rabbits require no fancy or expensive equipment:
They can be confined to hutches, and can be
raised in urban as well as rural areas. They
also can help you learn animal husbandry, or
the proper care and management of animals.
Those who work with rabbits find that something different is always happening. You will
find that handling rabbits, and their response
and dependence on you, are rewarding. Caring
for and managing your rabbits provides new
experiences each day. Possibly the greatest thrill
is when you share your experiences with friends
and neighbors.
Before you launch into a rabbit project, take
some time to decide if it is right for you. Calculate whether you have time and money to care
for your project, and decide if dogs, cats, and
other animals in the area would be harmful to
your rabbits. Ask your neighbors if they object
to your raising rabbits as a 4-H Project. If you
live in an incorporated area, check city ordinances also, to see if it is legal to raise rabbits
in your area.
*Extension Assistant-4-H, The Texas A&M University
If conditions are right for a rabbit project,
you can look for a suitable place to keep your
rabbits and arrange for proper hutches and
though crossbred rabbits are acceptable. Members must house, feed and care for animals properly.
Pet project: In this project, you own one
rabbit (buck or doe) as a pet. Members house,
feed and care for the animal properly.
Even members without a rabbit can learn
about rabbits and their care and share experiences through club meetings, tours, presentations, research projects, judging and identification activities, and sharing with other members.
All 4-H members have the opportunity to:
✦ Participate in method demonstrations, public speaking and Share-The-Fun contests.
✦ Participate in other related projects such as
photography and food and nutrition.
✦ Attend camps, tours and field trips.
✦ Participate in fairs, shows and statewide activities.
✦ Meet and share with friends.
✦ Learn new things through experiences in
club activities.
An early step in the project is choosing the
type of rabbit to raise. Rabbit breeds are differentiated by their body type, while varieties are
distinguished by the color of the rabbits’ fur.
Domestic rabbits are divided according to
size into four basic groups: “small” breeds,
“medium” breeds, “large” breeds and “giant”
breeds. Choose the breed based on your purpose for raising the rabbits and the amount of
space you have available for them.
It is best to start with a breed you like and
that is raised by someone near you, if at all possible. This gives you the advantage of that
person’s experience and knowledge if you have
questions about the breed.
Also, it is usually better to start with a breed
that is a solid color, as raising a marked breed
(multicolor) can sometimes be difficult and
frustrating. After you are familiar with the general aspects of rabbit raising, you can move to
a more challenging breed.
When possible, it is best to buy rabbits from
established, reliable breeders. These are people
who have healthy rabbits, are respected by other
Your rabbit project
Your 4-H Rabbit Project will give you:
✦ Opportunities to share with friends in a 4-H
✦ Fun and learning activities with other 4-H
✦ Help in developing leadership and communication skills.
✦ Opportunities to learn about animals’ behavior, how they live and reproduce.
✦ Help in developing patience, understanding
and concern for living creatures.
✦ Experiences that teach you about animal science, feed and nutrition, animal health and
disease control.
✦ Help in developing responsibility. Your rabbits will depend on you for their care and
✦ An opportunity to keep records and manage
a business of your own.
✦ Experience in raising and caring for rabbits.
Project options
You can participate in the Texas 4-H Rabbit
Project through a variety of options, depending on the intended use of your project.
Market rabbit project: In this project, you
own one or more does (a doe is a female rabbit;
a buck is a male) and an appropriate number of
bucks (generally, one buck for every eight to 10
does). One or more litters are raised and marketed for meat. Members may have crossbred
or standardized breeds. Members must provide
for proper housing, feed and care of animals.
Rabbit breeding project: In this project,
you own one or more does and an appropriate
number of bucks. One or more litters are raised.
Offspring are sold for breed stock and show
animals. Members should also market the
young. Members are encouraged to use purebred commercial breeds for this project, al-
breeders, keep good records, and generally have
good reputations as rabbit breeders and raisers.
Commercial breeds
White New Zealand, an American creation
that appeared after the Red New Zealand, is
one of the best all-around commercial breeds.
It is an all-white rabbit whose fur can be dyed
many colors for use as garment trims. The ideal
weight of bucks is 10 pounds; does, 11 pounds.
The Californian breed is another American
creation. After experimentation and crossbreeding, this rabbit was produced in 1923. It was
bred as a meat rabbit to have broad shoulders,
meaty back and hips and a good dressing percentage (percentage of edible meat). This rabbit is white except for ears, nose, feet and tail,
which are a dark gray or black. The ideal weight
for bucks is 9 pounds; does, 91/2 pounds.
The Champagne d’Argent, also known as
French Silver, is probably one of the oldest
breeds known and has been raised in France
for more than 100 years. A well-known commercial breed, its fur is useful in its natural state
and is still one of the leading furs used in garment manufacturing throughout Europe.
This rabbit is born black. At about 3 to 4
months, it takes on the adult color, a silver or
skimmed-milk color with a dark slate blue undercoat. The ideal weight for bucks is 10
pounds; does, 101/2 pounds.
The Satin is an American breed that occurred
as a mutation in a litter of Havanas. The Satin
mutation affects fur structure and sheen, which
are determined by a recessive gene. This means
that if you breed a Satin with another breed,
the babies will probably have the other breed’s
fur structure and sheen. Therefore, it is best not
to breed Satins with rabbits that have normal
fur. Nine colors are recognized.
The breed is popular for two reasons: Its type
and size make it a good commercial breed; its
sleek coat with commercial properties, brilliant
sheen and rich, vivid colors make it an excellent show rabbit. Mature bucks weigh 9 pounds;
does, 91/2 pounds.
White New Zealand
Champagne d’ Argent
Fancy breeds
Silver Marten fanciers have a choice of four
colors: black (the most popular variety), blue,
chocolate and sable. Choose a compact animal
with a well-filled back and shoulders to bring
out the desired type of the breed. Never stray
from proper body shape. The basic color is as
jet black as possible. Blue is a medium shade.
A dark chocolate color is the standard, while
the sable blends into various shades. All colors
should be free from white hair, molt (shed fur)
or stained fur. Proper color contrasts vividly
with the silver-tipped guard hair, which adds
much to this breed’s beauty. Silver-tipped guard
hair should be evenly distributed along the sides
and rump. In weight, bucks range from 61/2 to
81/2 pounds; does from 71/2 to 91/2 pounds.
Polish is a neat, cobby (stout or stocky),
sprightly rabbit with well-furred, short ears. The
first Polish were all white with ruby-colored eyes.
Although their origin is unknown, they probably
were bred from Dutch or Himalayan stock.
Polish are recognized in four colors: rubyeyed white, blue-eyed white, black and chocolate. Polish fur is short, dense and soft, resembling the Himalayan. For this reason, it was
known in Germany as the Ermine rabbit, because its coat is white like that of the ermine, a
member of the weasel family.
Polish have become so popular in this country that in most shows they rank among the top
10 breeds in numbers exhibited. They are nicknamed “The Little Aristocrat.” 4-H members
can have lots of fun exhibiting this toy rabbit,
which weighs 21/2 to 31/2 pounds.
The Himalayan rabbit came from the Himalayan Mountains in Asia, but has long been
known as an inhabitant of countries north and
south of the Himalayan range. One of the oldest breeds, it is distributed more widely throughout the world than any other rabbit. Thousands
of these rabbits are sacrificed annually in China
to the gods of crops and fruits of the earth.
The Himalayan characteristics are distinctive: a trim, well-built body covered with short,
sleek white fur, ears erect and black, a black,
egg-shaped nose with the small end coming
well up between the eyes, black front and hind
feet, a black tail and ruby red eyes. One peculiar characteristic of the Himalayan is that it
Silver Marten
weaves its head from side to side when sitting
at ease. Mature animals weigh up to 3 1/2
The Dutch, said to have originated in Holland, was improved and developed for exhibition purposes in England. One of the most fancy
popular breeds, it rates tops with rabbit fanciers.
This breed has six varieties: black, blue,
chocolate, tortoise, steel gray and gray. Because
it is a small rabbit, weighing from 31/2 to 51/2
pounds, the Dutch is ideal for fanciers with limited space. The Dutch is cobby and compact with
a well-rounded body, smooth in every respect.
Markings of the Dutch, sometimes difficult to
achieve, should be clean cut, clear and sharp.
The Mini Lop originated in Germany as the
“Kleine Widder” but the exact origin is unknown. It has a massive, thick-set body and
good depth and width from the shoulders to the
hindquarters, which are slightly heavier. The
body color may either be patched or have blanketed markings. The ideal weight for bucks is
51/2 pounds and for does, 6 pounds.
The Rex, meaning king, was named for its
short hair by M. Amedee Gillet of Coulange,
France. Rex have medium-length bodies with
good depth, well-rounded hips and a well-filled
loin. They come in several varieties and have
excellent meat-producing qualities. The ideal
weight for bucks is 8 pounds and does, 9 pounds.
The above are only a few of the 45 recognized breeds. For a complete listing and description, contact the American Rabbit Breeders
Association, P.O. Box 426, Bloomington, IL
61702. Phone: (309) 664-7500.
Equipment needed
Proper housing and good equipment are important for successful rabbit raising. In making
plans, consider first the rabbits’ comfort and
your ease of handling. You don’t need a lot of
equipment, but feeding, watering and nesting
equipment must be adequate and sanitary.
The hutch
Rabbit pens, called hutches, should be convenient and sanitary, allowing plenty of fresh
air and some sunlight. Each hutch should protect the rabbits from bad weather, dogs and
other animals, and provide enough room for
A modern wire hutch is made from welded wire.
growth and exercise. The most important point
in building a hutch is sanitation. An open-air,
self-cleaning hutch is recommended.
Modern rabbit hutch construction uses
welded wire. The floor is made with 1/2-inch by
1-inch welded wire. Sides and tops are built with
1-by-2-inch welded wire. All-wire hutches are
more sanitary and durable than wood and wire
hutches. They can be hung in an existing building with adequate ventilation, or the breeder can
build a new roof for the wire pens. This rabbitry is more attractive and efficient than outside hutches, especially when equipped with
outside feeders and automatic water systems.
Pelleted rations have eliminated the need for
hay mangers in rabbit hutches. The size of the
hutch depends on the size of the breed. Hutches
may be purchased pre-built.
Remember, it’s easier to care for rabbits in
well-built hutches than in poorly built, tempo-
rary ones. Open-air, self-cleaning hutches help
rabbits keep cool. These hutches can be kept
cleaner and diseases can be controlled more easily. To keep your rabbits from overheating, do
not place the hutches in direct sunlight. Put them
in partial or complete shade with good circulation.
Use a feed crock, trough or hopper to prevent feed waste and to keep the feed clean. Because rabbits are fed daily or more often, crocks
should hold at least a day’s feed supply. Larger
crocks or troughs may be wasteful, because rabbits contaminate the feed. Feed and livestock
equipment stores sell crocks especially designed for rabbit feeding. These do not tip easily and have a lipped edge that prevents the animals from wasting feed. The main objection to
crock feeders is that young rabbits get into them,
soiling the feed.
The outside-mounted, all-metal self-feeder
is most efficient when it is put onto all-wire
pens. Outside feeders are unsuitable on outside
open-air hutches, where rain can spoil the feed.
Feeds and feeding
Proper feeds and feeding methods are important to success with rabbits. The beginning
rabbit grower should use the kind of feed to
which the rabbits are accustomed. Feed should
be changed gradually. Sudden change makes
rabbits sick and may kill them.
The best way to change feed is to give a small
amount of new feed half an hour after their regular ration. Gradually increase the amount,
watching for ill effects (soft droppings, bloat,
etc.). If no trouble appears within 2 or 3 weeks,
use the new feed for the entire ration.
Green feeds and fresh leaf feeds are not recommended, because the supply may deplete,
making ration changes necessary. Feed quality
may be poor at times in these rations, and it
may be difficult to supply the variety needed
for good nutrition.
Animals fed exclusively on green feed never
have the good condition or development needed
for show animals. Therefore, commercial rabbit feed is generally the best and most practical
A metal feeder is most efficient on an all-wire pen.
Feeding schedules
Feeding regularity is more important than the
number of times the rabbits are fed daily. Because rabbits eat mostly at night, feeding them
in late afternoon or evening is preferred. Morning feeding is less satisfactory. Offer feed at the
same hour every day. If you use commercial
feed, follow the manufacturer’s directions for
Mature does without litters, mature bucks and
growing young should receive 3 to 6 ounces of
feed daily. Feed does with litters all they can
eat. Mature rabbits of medium breeds, weighing about 10 pounds, remain in good condition
with about 6 ounces daily of a complete pelleted
ration. Feed smaller breeds 3 to 4 ounces, depending on their size. Amounts may vary depending on the animal’s condition. Those too
fat need less feed; thin ones need more.
Provide plenty of clean fresh water bowl (top),
or from a bottle tube waterer (below).
Providing enough clean, fresh water is vital
for the rabbit producer. The amount of water
needed depends on the rabbit’s size; type of
food; watering frequency; environmental temperature; water quality, availability and temperature; and individual variations.
A doe and a litter drink about 1 gallon of
water a day. You can use either crocks or an
automatic water system such as dewdrops or
water bottles. Tin cups are not advisable, as they
are easily tipped over and are hard to keep clean.
Nest box
A rabbit is born hairless, blind and deaf; it is
your job to protect it. A good nest box keeps
the babies warm, allows for ventilation and
moisture drainage, and keeps the young in the
box until they are big enough to climb in and
out by themselves. The nest box must also be
large enough to keep the doe comfortable.
Never use a cardboard box for a nest box.
Do not use built-in nest boxes unless you can
remove them easily for cleaning and sterilizing.
Many rabbit breeders use an open box for
nesting, particularly in the summer and in
hutches protected from the elements. The box
should be 16 by 10 inches, and 8 inches tall.
A kindling box should be big enough for the doe and her
young to be comfortable.
In warm weather, provide fresh, clean straw
nesting material for the does. If the doe reacts
normally to her newborn litter, she will pull
enough wool from her body to make a warm
nest for her young. However, in winter, you may
have to furnish extra nesting material. In this
case, fill the nest box so completely with new,
clean straw that the doe must burrow into it to
form a cavity for a nest.
Metal nest boxes are commercially available.
You can also buy wire frames that contain
throwaway cardboard liners.
Remember, keep all equipment clean and
sanitary, and always provide plenty of clean,
fresh feed, water and nesting material.
important than age, but it is a mistake to mate
rabbits much younger than the ages listed, regardless of size.
After the first litter, the doe can be bred again
when the litter is 7 weeks old. If the doe refuses the buck, try again in 3 days. After mating, the doe should be test-mated on the 18th
day. Refusal of the buck, whining and attempts
to escape indicate that she is bred.
Always take the doe to the buck’s hatch.
Mating should occur at once. Allow the buck
to service the doe only twice. A second mating
in 6 hours may increase the size of the litter. If
service is effective, the buck will fall to one
Do not use bucks more than once every 3
days. However, daily breeding for short periods is satisfactory.
Breeding and kindling
The age of bucks and does for first mating
depends on the animal’s breed and development. Generally, smaller breeds (up to 8
pounds) can be mated at 5 to 6 months old.
Medium breeds, such as the White or Red New
Zealand, can be mated at 61/2 to 7 months; and
giant breeds at 8 to 9 months. Growth is more
A doe should produce only four litters per
year. Do not allow her to raise more than eight
young in each litter.
Breeding failures
Most failures to breed are caused by does
being too fat. Excessive heat, especially during the summer, will make bucks sterile.
Sometimes does eat the young, for a variety
of reasons. If the doe receives a wholesome,
well-balanced feed, but still eats her young, it
is best not to keep her for a breeder.
Kindling (giving birth to young)
About 25 to 28 days after a doe has been
bred, put the nest box in her hutch. Fill the box
with 4 or 5 inches of clean straw. Keep the doe
quiet. Loud noises often cause a doe to miscarry.
Young are usually born between the 28th and
the 32nd day. Gently check the new babies and
remove dead ones after the doe has kindled. A
doe will cover the young with fur from her body.
The doe is the best caretaker of her young.
Each day during the summer after she has
kindled, attract her attention with some feed or
by stroking her with one hand. Use the other
hand to examine the nest and take out any dead
young. It is also advisable to remove all but
seven or eight. If the doe nourishes too many
Check the new babies and remove the dead ones after the
doe has kindled.
young, runts and weaklings result. Surplus
young may be moved to does with small litters
of equal size and age.
Just before kindling, the doe may eat little.
Be sure she has plenty of fresh water. After she
kindles, feed enough to supply necessary nourishment for her and milk for the young. In addition to more of the regular ration, feeding carrots, rolled oats or Calf Manna is beneficial.
from all other rabbits) for at least 2 weeks. Experienced rabbit raisers with healthy colonies
buy few rabbits, because each addition brings
a risk of adding new diseases.
Houses should be well ventilated and easy
to clean. Thoroughly clean all hutches of manure and debris daily. Clean open feeders and
waterers daily and closed feeders weekly.
Clean nests and disinfect them before kindling and after the nest box is removed from
the hutch. Change bedding when it becomes
wet or contaminated with urine or droppings.
Dispose of all used nesting material.
The doe enters the box to feed the young for
about 1 minute early in the morning and again
late in the evening. Well-fed babies are sleek,
clean, fat and well-filled most of the time. Have
no fear that they are starving; most rabbits are
excellent mothers. Young rabbits are about 10
to 12 days old when their eyes open and fur
Cleaning and disinfecting
Clean all manure and dirt from equipment.
Scrub it with hot water and detergent. A stiff
bristled brush, scraper and elbow grease are the
secrets of proper cleaning.
When rabbits are about 3 weeks old, they
leave the box and eat with their mother. Do not
wean until the young are 8 to 10 weeks old.
They should be butchered immediately.
Prospective breeders can be left with the doe
a few days, although it is unnecessary beyond
10 weeks. The doe can be rebred a week before
weaning the litter.
Keep your animals as isolated as possible
from people and strange animals. They bring
diseases and disturb the breeding stock unnecessarily.
The rabbits’ environment must be kept clean
and sanitary. This means removing wastes and
keeping housing, feed, water and air relatively
free of disease germs and parasites. Sanitation
and disease prevention are the keys to a healthy
The best rule in disease prevention is to start
with healthy animals from a reliable breeder.
The history of disease in a colony of rabbits is
as important as the health of individual animals
when they are bought. To avoid buying disease
“carriers” that transmit diseases without showing symptoms, ask the breeder whether his or
her rabbits have had specific diseases.
Quarantine all new animals brought to an
established colony (keep them at least 50 feet
Do not allow hair to accumulate in the rabbitry.
Diseases, parasites and illnesses
How to detect illness
Colds or sniffles (rhinitis)
Through frequent and careful inspection, a
good husbandman (one who raises and takes
care of livestock or crops) can recognize when
an animal is sick. This may not be easy for the
beginner, but comes with experience.
Examine your animals daily. Note how much
food and water are consumed, and the nature
and quantity of wastes. Color, fur condition,
breathing, nasal discharges and ear carriage (the
way the ears are held) are indications of health.
Isolate sick animals until they recover. Do
not handle sick animals until after you’ve cared
for the healthy ones.
Dispose of all dead animals. Thoroughly
clean and disinfect all contaminated hutches and
equipment as soon as possible.
When diseases occur, consult your veterinarian, and ask first whether the treatment will be
practical or economical. Be sure the veterinarian knows the true economic value of the animals involved, so that he or she can recommend
treatments. You can take a sick animal to the
veterinarian’s office, but sometimes he may
want to visit your colony.
Diseases are caused by living organisms such
as bacteria, protozoa, fungi and viruses. Some
organisms may be present in healthy animals,
but do not cause illness unless the animal’s resistance is lowered. Other organisms make the
animal sick immediately.
An animal’s resistance can be lowered by
drafts, heat, cold, fright, crowding, overfeeding, overhandling, poor nutrition and sudden
change of environment or feeding practices.
These are sometimes called “predisposing
causes” or “stress factors.”
Different diseases may cause similar symptoms or conditions. Because the unskilled eye
cannot determine seriousness, losses could be
severe before proper treatment is administered.
Contact your veterinarian when you have
doubts about an illness, when deaths occur suddenly or when illness persists. Also, consult
with a veterinarian before your animals are sick,
for advice on added disease control practices
important in your area.
Cause: Bacteria, viruses or allergies.
Predisposing causes: Drafts, exposure to
heat or cold, poor ventilation, dietary deficiencies or other stress factors.
Symptoms: Sneezing and a runny nose are
the main symptoms. Nasal discharge may be
watery to thick. The animal wipes its nose with
the front paws, causing wetting or matting of
the fur on the paws. The eyes may run, and often temperature is below normal. Animals suffering from sniffles often develop pneumonia.
Control and treatment: Remove infected
animals from the rabbitry and isolate them.
Commercial nose drops, used for other animals
or human beings and containing either
sulfathiazol, tetracycline or oxytetracycline, are
beneficial. Apply 2 or 3 drops in each nostril
morning and night.
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs
and accompanies many diseases. Sometimes it
occurs as a primary disease.
Cause: Bacteria, virus and foreign substances.
Predisposing causes: Chilling, parasites,
poisons, other infections, inhalation of gases
and liquids, etc.
Symptoms: The animal doesn’t eat and has
difficulty breathing; its body temperature generally is elevated; and its head may be extended
to relieve breathing. Death may occur soon after the illness begins.
Treatment: Accurate diagnosis is necessary
before treating pneumonia. Several drugs, such
as sulfa drugs and antibiotics, help speed recovery.
Enteritis and scours
Cause: Scours, or diarrhea, generally is a
symptom of some intestinal infection (enteritis) caused by parasites, bacteria, viruses, poisons, incorrect feeding or poor digestion.
Symptoms: Droppings range in consistency
from semisolid to liquid; blood may or may not
be present. There is a foul odor, and the hair
Abscesses and sore hocks
around the tail and back legs is soiled or matted.
If diarrhea is not stopped soon, the animal will
lose its body fluids and salts and become emaciated (thin). The fur appears ruffled and dull.
Treatment: The correct treatment for enteritis depends on its cause. If the cause is parasites, eliminate them with proper drugs. A laxative such as castor oil may be used in case the
enteritis has resulted from moldy or musty
feeds. Drugs such as bismuth sub-nitrate, kaolin, antibiotics and pectin, used for diarrhea
in puppies and children, may be used for rabbits, although treatment seldom is successful.
Cause: Abscesses may be caused by bacteria or an infection entering the blood stream
and causing abscess anywhere in or on the body.
Abscesses may form after cuts, bites or any type
of abrasion where an infection may enter the
skin and the tissue underneath. Sore hocks are
often caused by constant exposure to wire floors
or hard floors with no bedding.
Treatment: Open the abscess and drain it;
clean it thoroughly with clean water; then apply an antiseptic such as tincture of iodine.
Nose and face scabs (facial dermatitis)
Cause: Bacteria and fungi. Bacteria and
fungi infect inflamed and irritated areas around
the nose and face. The inflammation and irritation may be caused by secretions from a runny
nose, bites, external parasites, rubbing the nose
with the feet, gases from dirty pens, etc.
Treatment: Antibiotic injections help relieve
this condition. Medication put around the mouth
usually is licked off or rubbed off with the paws.
Eliminate the cause of irritation.
Caked udders (edema)
Cause: Caked udders may develop just before kindling, right after weaning or any time
between kindling and weaning. Edema is a
hardening of the udder because fluids have accumulated in the tissue. The udder hardens,
swells and is painful to the animal when
Treatment: Apply hot towels over the udder
or massage and try to remove some of the milk.
If baby rabbits are nursing, be sure they are well
and removing the milk.
Cause: Bacteria and fungi. The udder becomes swollen, hot and sore to the touch, with
a caked udder. Infection gets into the udder
through the teat canal. Injuries and irritation
from a caked udder may bring on mastitis.
Treatment: Antibiotic injections are the best
known treatment. If abscesses form and rupture, treat them locally with an antiseptic such
as tincture of iodine.
Sore hocks can be caused by constant exposure to wire
floors or hard floors with no bedding.
Internal and external parasites
Cause: A parasitic disease, coccidiosis damages the liver and intestinal tract. It is caused
by protozoa, which can be seen only under a
Treatment: A veterinarian’s advice is needed
for treating this condition.
Like other animals, rabbits can become infested with both internal and external parasites.
The main parasites found outside the body are
ear and mange mites. Both are microscopic.
When hutches are kept clean, internal parasites generally pose no problem. If they do occur, seek advice from your veterinarian on what
type worm is present and what treatment is
proper. Preventive measures consist of keeping hutches dry and clean, and controlling flies
and mosquitoes in the area. Keep dogs and cats
and other pets away from the rabbitry. Do not
let them sleep on feed sacks or material to be
used in hutches.
Other problems
Cause: Slobbers may be caused by too much
green feed, or green feed to which young rabbits are unaccustomed. It may also be caused
by sniffles, coccidiosis or bad teeth.
Treatment: The treatment depends on the
cause. If too much green feed has been offered,
lower the amount. If irregular feeding of green
feed caused the condition, give green feed daily.
If bad or long teeth are the cause, correct this
condition by either removing bad teeth or cutting off long teeth.
Ear canker
Cause: Ear mites.
Symptoms: The animal shakes its head, holds
it to one side and scratches at its ears. Later,
the ear becomes infected. If not treated, this
builds into a moist exudate with crusts or scabs
inside the ear, sometimes extending to the outside.
Treatment: Swab and remove as much debris as possible. Remove the scabs from the
sores and pus from the bottom of the ear. Apply a solution of mineral oil and camphor medicine with an eye dropper, or a commercially
available product, saturating thoroughly the inside of the ear and all sores or scabs.
Mineral oil alone may be used if the other
two products are not available. Ear mites may
also be controlled by using tick and flea powders that are used for dogs and cats. Sprinkle
powder into the ear after the ear has been thoroughly cleaned.
Cuts and wounds
Treatment: Clip hair around wounds. Clean
the wound, then apply an antiseptic such as
Merthiolate. If the wound is deep and wide,
stitches may be needed.
Long front teeth (buck teeth)
Cause: To wear evenly, the large front incisor teeth should meet at a correct angle. In some
cases, this does not occur, and the animal has
difficulty eating.
Treatment: Trim the teeth even with the others, using diagonal cutters (many times ordinary wire cutters are adequate), and file down
the sharp edges with an ordinary file. Do not
keep these animals for breeding, since buck
teeth may be inherited by offspring.
Cause: Ringworm, caused by a fungus, is
seen as circles of hairless spots or grayish scaly
Treatment: Treat the affected area with tincture of iodine. Clean the hutches thoroughly every day when external parasites are present.
Processing for market and home use
4-H members may dispose of their rabbits
in four ways:
✦ Sell live rabbits to a processor for slaughtering;
✦ Process them for direct sale;
✦ Process them for home use; or
✦ Sell them as pets or breeders.
Each 4-H member should begin the project
with the goal to sell rabbits for meat and fur,
rather than to keep them as pets or for breeding. Make arrangements to sell meat rabbits to
a processor before fryers are ready for market.
Crating and transporting live rabbits
Most rabbits will probably be sent to market
live. Properly crated rabbits in good condition
can be transported safely, but do not expose
them to extreme heat or cold. Good ventilation
is important. Avoid overcrowding. Although
having individual shipping compartments is
better, 4-H members transporting rabbits for
relatively short distances can probably use shipping crates made from packing boxes. As the
scope of the project grows, obtain permanent
shipping crates.
To make your rabbit enterprise financially
successful, you must have a way to sell your
animals. Your marketing methods and the price
you receive may determine your ability to pay
your expenses and make a profit.
By the time a litter is partly grown, you must
know how you will market the animals. Select
outstanding animals from a strong bloodline
(desirable strain) to keep as replacements for
older animals or as new additions to the colony.
Sell other animals that meet breed or production standards whenever possible to 4-H members or other people wishing to raise rabbits.
You might sell fryers live to commercial rabbit processors or to laboratory animal suppliers. Or, dress and sell the fryers to friends, relatives, neighbors, stores or restaurants. Each of
these markets requires a clean, healthy, wellfleshed animal. Be sure to find out the county
and state regulations governing the sale of
dressed fryers.
Fryers can be sold either as a whole carcass
or cut up and ready for meal preparation. It is
probably best to use poorer fleshed animals at
home. You can sell older animals as roasters or
A rabbit carrying cage can safely transport your animals to
stewers, either live or dressed. Be sure your customers know the kind of animal they are buying and the best way to prepare the meat.
The smaller rabbit breeds are often popular
on the pet market. Eye appeal, ability to adapt
and a good temperament are needed for this type
of sale.
Rabbit manure is often in demand. An important part of your enterprise is the worm bed,
where fishing worms and a garden mulch can
be produced. This practice is recommended
because it allows you to use the manure in a
way that minimizes odor and fly problems.
Sometimes you can sell rabbit manure to home
gardeners or to people who raise worms commercially.
✦ Select best rabbits for showing. Do this early,
allowing time for conditioning.
✦ Begin working with your rabbit at least 6
weeks before a show. Brush it with a soft
brush and rub the hair coat with your hands
to remove old, dead hair and give the rabbit
a shiny new coat. This also helps gentle the
rabbit. This is also the time to teach the rabbit to sit still on a table. Judges do not waste
time with rabbits that jump around on the
show table.
✦ Read all the rules and regulations for the
show. Ear canker, sore hocks and other abnormalities disqualify a rabbit.
✦ Before the show, have your rabbit tattooed
properly for identification.
✦ When you arrive at the show, check your entry with the show superintendent or secretary. Usually, exhibitors do not have to feed
or care for the rabbit during the show. The
show committee will take care of your rabbits and take them to the judging table, but
you may be asked to help.
✦ As the judge examines the rabbit, information about the rabbit is written on the official record. This information usually is recorded also on the back of the card attached
to the pen. A paper sticker showing the
rabbit’s placing is usually placed on the front
of the card.
✦ Be present when your rabbits are being
judged to learn from the judge’s comments.
✦ In judging rabbits, the classifications of the
American Rabbit Breeders Association usually prevail.
4-H members who show rabbits regularly
can profit by reading this association’s official
Guide Book and Standard of Perfection. Members of the local rabbit producers association
or 4-H leaders can also provide information. In
most shows, classes are provided for the following: Senior Doe, Senior Buck, Intermediate Doe, Intermediate Buck, Junior Doe, Junior Buck, Pre-Junior, Meat Pen and Fur classes.
For information from the ARBA, see its web
site at www.arba.net.
Selecting, grooming and showing
Generally, 4-H members should not raise
rabbits for show only. Rather, they should select the best animals from their colony to show.
Successful rabbit raising begins with purebred foundation stock. Rabbits for show should
come from purebred parents of a breed recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) in its “Standards of Perfection.” Avoid crossbred or mixed rabbits because
they cannot be shown, and they vary greatly. It
is wise to invest in the best stock available.
For showing, select the best rabbits according to the standards for its breed. Study the show
rules, regulations and classifications carefully
before taking a rabbit to a show. Shows impose
strict requirements on weight, color, size and
age of rabbits entered. Although pedigrees are
usually not required, good records make good
rabbits even more valuable for show and meat
You can learn a lot about showing rabbits
by watching others show them. Some pointers
you should know include:
Be present when your rabbits are being judged so you can learn
from the judge’s comments.
For more information
Domestic Rabbit Production. By George S.
Templeton. The Interstate Printer and Publishers, Danville, Illinois.
Domestic Rabbits. American Rabbit Breeders
Association, 1925 S. Main St., Bloomington,
Illinois 61701.
Your Rabbit - A Kid’s Guide to Raising and
Showing. Storey Communications, 105
School House Road, Pownal, Vermont
Rabbits U.S.A. P. O. Box 190, Colton, Oregon
Rabbits Only. P. O. Box 207, Holbrook, New
York 11741.
Rabbits, Rabbits, Rabbits. By Clint Rusk,
Norman D. Long and Lynn Blanchard.
Purdue University Cooperative Extension
Bulletins and books
American Rabbit Breeders Association Official
Guidebook. 1925 S. Main St., Bloomington,
Illinois 61701.
Rabbit associations
American Rabbit Breeders Association., P.O.
Box 426, Bloomington, IL 61702. Phone:
(309) 664-7500. www.arba.net
Standard of Perfection. American Rabbit Breeders Association, 1925 S. Main St.,
Bloomington, Illinois 61701.
Texas Rabbit Breeders.
Rabbit Production Handbook. Instructional
Materials Service, 2588 The Texas A&M
University System, College Station, Texas
Do’s and Don’ts
✦ Keep hutches clean.
✦ Wash water crocks and bottles at least once a week.
✦ Put the nest box in the hutch 3 or 4 days before the doe is supposed to
kindle (have babies).
✦ Leave all the doe’s babies with her for 48 hours, then cut the litter to
seven or eight.
✦ Furnish fresh water every day.
✦ Keep one buck for each eight to 10 does.
✦ Watch your animals carefully. If they get too fat, reduce the feed. If
they get too thin, increase the feed.
✦ Watch for ear mites. A rabbit with ear mites loses weight.
✦ Watch closely for sore hocks. They also cause weight loss.
✦ Always lift a rabbit by a fold of skin behind the neck, over the shoulder, supporting the hind quarters with your other hand. Never lift a
rabbit by the ears alone.
✦ Keep your rabbits out of drafts and dampness.
✦ Breed rabbits in poor flesh condition.
✦ Breed does too young. Small breeds may be bred at 5 to 6 months;
medium breeds at 61/2 to 7 months; giant breeds at 8 to 9 months,
depending on development.
✦ Allow your rabbits to be in sunlight for long periods.
✦ Use a buck under 6 months old.
✦ Overfeed your rabbits.
✦ Let your rabbits get overweight. They will not breed in this condition.
Produced by Agricultural Communications, The Texas A&M University System
Extension publications can be found on the Web at: http:/texaserc.tamu.edu
Educational programs of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion,
age or national origin.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics, Acts of Congress of May 8, 1914, as amended, and
June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. Chester P. Fehlis, Deputy Director, Texas Agricultural
Extension Service, The Texas A&M University System.
1,000 copies, Reprint
4-H, AS